Pets Pose Almost Zero Health Risks for Restaurants

transitioning into a pet-friendly restaurant

Posted: Apr. 25, 2018

One demographic that tends to be overlooked by restaurants and bars is pet owners. We want to change that. When nearly one in three American households has a dog, ignoring this large group becomes a missed opportunity for business owners. Pets were first banned because animals were classified as a health code risk in food service areas; these laws have never applied to service dogs (and service miniature horses).


Since more and more people have been questioning the rules banning pets at restaurants, several states have enacted ordinances that allow pets in outdoor seating areas. These states are confident in their decision because recent evidence shows that pets pose almost no health risks for restaurants.


If you are considering transitioning into a pet-friendly restaurant or bar, keep reading to see what the experts say, and which rules you’ll be obliged to follow.


Where are pets allowed in restaurants?

Before you announce your new pet-friendly policy, it’s important to first identify which states have legislation allowing pets on restaurant property. Otherwise, you might run the risk of receiving a health code violation from the USDA.

As of February 2017, food service businesses in the following states allow dogs in outdoor seating areas:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee

If your restaurant is located in a state that’s not listed, check what the rules are in your city and county, since local governments often enact their own laws concerning pets in restaurants.

Animal Experts Agree that Pets Aren’t Health Hazards

They live in our homes and we share our lives with them, but still, pets are considered a health code violation. A 2014 study reveals that public health risks of dogs in food service areas are “very low as long as safety, sanitation, and hygiene practices are enforced.” In fact, irrelevant information may have led to an unwarranted restaurant ban against pets. The study claims, “Much of the available health-risk-factor evidence reflects pets in domestic conditions and interaction with farm animals.”

Small animal veterinarian Dr. Eva Evans also believes the health risks are low since most dogs and pets are regularly vaccinated and given preventive medication. “A healthy dog that is fully vaccinated and on a monthly parasite prevention, such as Heartgard, Interceptor, Sentinel, or Advantage Multi will pose an extremely low risk to human health,” she says. And what if the dog is sick? “As long as the dog’s waste is kept away from the dining area, there is little concern for health risks to humans.”

The Rules for Dogs in Restaurants

To comply with health standards, your restaurant staff needs official training on the proper rules for working around animals. Each state has its own set of rules, but the following are general restaurant guidelines for dogs in outdoor dining spaces.

  • Employees must wash their hands after touching pets and are prohibited from touching animals while preparing or serving food.
  • A posted reminder to patrons to wash their hands after touching pets. (In Florida, waterless hand sanitizer must be provided at all tables in the designated outdoor area.)
  • Established rules that patrons must keep their dogs on leashes at all times and under reasonable control.
  • A prohibition against dogs on chairs, tables, or other furnishings.
  • Provisions to clean up and sanitize areas that contact pet waste. (In Florida, a kit with the appropriate materials for this purpose is required and mandated to be kept near the designated outdoor area.)
  • A rule prohibiting dogs from traveling through indoor areas of the restaurant, even if entering or exiting the restaurant.
  • Posted signs that inform patrons and employees of the rules.

When health code rules are obliged and animals are healthy, the consensus is that health risks are low. Customers that enjoy taking their pets everywhere will be thrilled to have a pet-friendly restaurant to dine in.

Restaurants Also Need to Consider….

Aside from health code risks, there are other rules restaurants should consider, such as:

  • Will you ask a customer with a barking dog to leave?
  • What is the protocol for any accidents near the dining area?
  • How many chances will you give an unruly dog who jumps on the chairs or tables before asking the customer to leave?
  • What is the protocol for customers who complain about pet allergies?

For a harmonious atmosphere between pet owners and regular customers, consider the total aesthetics of your restaurant. These issues are just as important as potential health risks as they ensure that customers continue enjoying their experience at your restaurant. Once decided, post your policies somewhere all dog-owning patrons can see (like the last page of your menu).

It’s a fact: A fast and efficient restaurant point of sale system boosts productivity and increases revenue.

Posted: Apr. 25, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois


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